Adelaide Festival 2022: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Image courtesy of Adelaide Festival

Who: by Oscar Wilde / Sydney Theatre Company / Adapted and directed by Kip Williams

Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre

When: 13 – 20 March 2022

Details: Link here

With the direction of Kip Williams and performance of Eryn Jean Norvill, a new re-imagining of Oscar Wilde’s literary classic The Picture of Dorian Gray leaps into the twenty first century. Although originally released in 1890, the cautionary tale of self-obsession and a narcissistic lifestyle remains relevant to its audience today.

The story revolves around a painted portrait of Dorian Gray, Gray himself becomes enthralled by a friend’s hedonistic worldview: that beauty and sensual fulfilment are the only things worth pursuing in life. Realising his beauty will fade, Gray expresses his desire to sell his soul so that his portrait rather than he will age and fade. Such is granted, and Gray pursues a life of varied unprincipled experiences, and 18 years on still maintains his youth and beauty; meanwhile his portrait ages and is visually altered by each of Gray’s sins.

Williams’ creative use of live and pre-recorded videos allows Norvill to portray all 26 characters simultaneously throughout the performance. We witness Norvill alone on stage with a crew of up to five cameras circling her from different angles which are connected to multiple hanging screens on stage. They are strategically hung in different arrangements throughout the performance to cleverly utilise the space. 

Image courtesy of Adelaide Festival

Despite the cavernous nature of the stage, each screen is thoughtfully framed to effectively zone in on Norvill, and by design changes the pace or intensity of the act, and underlines that with one performer playing all the roles “it looks at this idea that is central to Wilde’s novel, that is the way an individual has multiple selves and constructs multiple selves both in life and in art – and the very notion of life as theatre the performance of identity.” 

As the audience watches Norvill portray all 26 characters, we are greatly entertained to watch this unfold before our eyes, the initial unexpectedness of seeing Norvill seamlessly transition between characters, at first merely distinguished by a change of camera angle and a simple prop, which as the performance progresses becomes increasingly more elaborate by costume design, moving set pieces and a fantastic  musical score.  

Image courtesy of Adelaide Festival

Norvill is a marvel to witness performing all characters alone, without hesitation or pause for the duration of two hours. She artfully brings us on Gray’s journey and the indulgence of a hedonistic lifestyle that brings his own demise. We witness the pivotal moments that transform him from the naïve, unadulterated lad, descending into someone evil, paranoid and manic.

Norvill characterises the corrupting effects of Gray’s obsessive self-regard and highlights the relationship between worth and appearance, as if holding up a mirror to our own person. The pointed use of iPhone video, selfies, and filters to skew Gray’s appearance is a commentary of our current social media obsessed society, and is too marked not to be missed.

I left the theatre feeling completely overwhelmed, pondering and contemplating the brilliance of what I had  witnessed. This production in its entirety has left a lasting impression on me, and I cannot highly recommend it enough.

5/5 stars

– by Rachel Wong

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